HOW HAS COVID 19 AFFECTED CHILD MENTAL HEALTH?
In a word, the impact of the COVID pandemic on children’s’ mental health has been severe, if not disastrous. Considering autism, severe anxiety or depression, trauma-related psychological issues, and significant learning challenges, about 6% of U.S. children between 6 and 18 have such difficulties. School programs provide many of the ongoing services for these kids, as well as doctors’ offices. With such services terminated last spring due to the pandemic, many of these kids were disconnected from the support they need. (https://khn.org/news/article/kids-already-coping-with-mental-health-disorders-spiral-as-pandemic-topples-vital-support-systems/ )
Families in the Medicaid program were severely impacted, but so were more affluent families with private insurance if their kids were receiving school-based assistance. Between March and May last year, in the beginning of the pandemic, children on Medicaid received 44% fewer services on an outpatient basis compared to the same period in 2019. This figure takes into account telehealth services provided.
Emergency rooms received more visits involving children for mental health reasons comparing 2020 to 2019. From April to October in 2020, ER’s had a 24% increase in children being seen for mental health reasons for kids between 5 and 11, and a 31% increase for kids 12-17. Following up on these ER visits, more kids are being admitted to inpatient settings, for two reasons:
- There are fewer outpatient services available.
- The conditions of the children showing up at ER’s are more severe.
Many kids are being kept in ER’s on a short-term basis, as if they are “boarding” there for days, awaiting available space in an inpatient setting. The shortage of psychiatric beds for children was serious before the pandemic, only worse now. For years there has been a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals to help children, all exacerbated by the current pandemic. Many kids don’t get attention until the need becomes critical – even life-threatening – which only stresses the health care system all the more, and leaves many children and their families underserved.
If a child is hospitalized and stabilized, then comes the challenge of finding after care, to maintain the child’s gains and continue progress. Many of these kids risk winding up in the legal system as adolescents engaged in dangerous behaviors. The long-term risks and costs are staggering.
Members of IPN are available to provide support and help to children and their parents.
Dr. Alan M. Solomon is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310 539-2772 or firstname.lastname@example.org Telehealth sessions are available.
Copyright 2021 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.